Reflecting on living with COVID-19.
Our reality now.
These are difficult times as we move to living with COVID-19 by way of necessary public health guidelines. We are called to respond, once again, to stem the increasing number of positive cases in our communities. Individuals and communities have made, and will continue to make, great sacrifices for the protection of life, health and the Common Good. The key implication for our parish faith communities in Kilmore, except for those in the NI jurisdiction, is being without the possibility of full participation in the Eucharist. We yearn to gather to give profound expression to who we are as Church. Our gathering for the Mass provides us with the vital source of our outreach to others. In the meantime, we depend upon Mass via webcam, radio link or social media platforms. In the absence of full participation in the Eucharist, we must rely upon our prayer at home and upon the Word of God, in engaging with online liturgies. We are placing our confidence in families at home – the ‘Domestic Church’ to sustain us in our faith.
Our priests, and all who are involved in pastoral ministry, are continuing to find new ways to reach out to others in fulfilment of their duties, as restrictions do not permit face-to-face meetings or regular visitation of homes or schools. Each one of us, in our homes, and communities, are called to continue to courageously exercise our calling to care for others. Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, presents the example of the Good Samaritan and urges us to draw close to the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters at home and throughout the world. The pandemic has seriously impacted the livelihoods of many Irish families. The plight of poor and homeless people, and the needs of our elderly and vulnerable, have been thrown into stark relief. As well as being open to new ways of being available and visible to others, e.g. speaking at a distance through an open window, we can always rely upon the phone call, text, email or letter. The tone of voice and an empathetic word will always communicate the compassionate love of God, in particular, to those living alone. I encourage you to continue to be proactive in reaching out to those living alone, e.g. in establishing ‘bubbles of support’ for them.
We are now approaching November, when we remember our Faithful Departed. November 2020, is of particular significance, as our Faithful Departed include those who died due to COVID-19, over in the past year. We pray with those who are grieving and who did not have the benefit of the ritual of a funeral; the experience of the customary spiritual and community supports, which are so much part of our Irish tradition. There is a huge yearning for consolation and hope in the heart of our people It is important that our churches, which will remain open, be places of refuge and of that consolation in these difficult times. On 1 November at 3 p.m. the bishops and priests of Ireland will lead a short service of prayer to dedicate the month of November to Remembrance of the Dead and to offer Prayer for the Bereaved. The whole country will be united at that moment, which will be followed by online parish liturgies throughout the month of November, reaching out as much as possible to those who cannot be physically present. Among the ideas proposed by parishes, which are worthy of exploration for November, are online Memorial Mass/Prayer Services, to include the recitation of the names of the recently deceased (with photographs), availability of a Sacred Space and Memorial Tree and/or Candles.
Our crisis – our opportunity.
Once again, we are at a critical stage with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that more restrictive measures are being put in place, we can encourage each other to persevere and not to lose heart. Our civic leaders and public health officials are righty encouraging us to work together to help curtail the spread of the virus; to dig deep and to show resolve. It is not easy, as the restrictions not just disrupt our routines. Their imposition means that businesses must close, and people lose their employment, albeit with Government supports. Also, the restrictions cause isolation which, alongside the anxiety around the increasing number of positive cases, have consequences for our mental health.
These challenges raise many questions for me, namely:
- Where do we, in the midst of these necessary restrictions and concerns, find that resolve to work together, and where do we go for inspiration?
- What is the motivation to stay with the restrictions and go beyond our usual efforts? – What is it that can sustain us?
- We are being offered the hope of a reduced level of the virus, yet we worry about the next wave.
Also, there is the possibility of a vaccine. While we wish all those engaged in pursuing that path well, however, a vaccine may not be available in the short term. In the meantime, all our usual supports; work, a livelihood, the contact with extended family, friends, neighbours, clubs, organisations, community, faith gatherings, e.g. Mass have been removed. Where do go for that resolve to keep going?
Is this time of being curtailed by restrictions our opportunity to discover within ourselves a source of hope, of endurance that will sustain us in the long term? Perhaps, this is a time to have conversations about how we are coping; to take time to listen to how each one of us is getting through these current difficulties and of sharing that wisdom with each other.
In this time of reflection, we may come to realise that what we ‘normally’ rely upon is really a distraction from discovering a rich resource within. Perhaps, this time of restrictions is an opportunity to step back once again from over-activity; a time to reflect, read and study resources that will sustain our spiritual well-being in the long term. Faith and prayer, in the home and in church can be a huge support in difficult times, especially when we do so alongside an in-depth reflection upon our current crisis and share our journey with others.
Do not lose heart.
We are called to persevere and not to lose heart on the solid basis of our faith in a God who is with us on our journey of life. In reflecting upon the reality of our experiences within the context of our faith story, we must focus upon the practical measures like keeping our distance, washing our hands and wearing our masks in crowded places. We need to do all we can to ensure that COVID-19 is stemmed in its spread for the sake of everyone, especially, the most vulnerable. Looking ahead, Advent and Christmas are likely to be very different this year. Advent, as a time of patient, hopeful waiting and longing, will have a particular resonance in these times, while the much needed joy of Christmas may well be tempered by the impact of restrictions. As parish communities may we explore creatively ways in which the hope of Advent and the joy of Christmas can be realised and safely celebrated. We give thanks for the courage, compassion and generosity of people during the pandemic – especially that of our health workers, carers and others working in essential services – it has been uplifting and inspiring. May we, not ‘pass by on the other side’, but, in the example of Christ, open our hearts and reach out in response to others in their need at this time.
+ Martin Hayes
Bishop of Kilmore